Toggle Color Open

Project Search


By Inês Pinto, Project Director and Concept Architect

“Other changes are more subtle – the way that rooms are used, or how much privacy is afforded by them. Is my study more comfortable? The obvious answer is yes, but if we were to ask D¬ürer, we might be surprised by his reply. To begin with, he would not understand the question. “What exactly do you mean by comfortable?” he might respond in puzzled curiosity. The word “comfortable” did not originally refer to enjoyment or contentment. Its Latin root was confortare – to strengthen or console – and this remained its meaning for centuries.”

(Rybczynski, W., Home – a short history of an idea, p.20)

“Stimmung is characteristic of interiors that has less to do with functionality than with the way the room conveys the character of its owner – the way that it mirrors his soul, as Praz poetically put it.”

(Rybczynski, W., Home – a short history of an idea, p.43)

Confortare – Latin word for consoling, comforting / helping to overcome obstacles. This is the definition for house. The quintessential space for refuge, for protection. For building, for definition and for discovery of the identity of the human being. Architecture. That moves us; that touches us.

I am at the Santa Maria do Bouro Monastery. I’m outside. I’ve walked by places heavy with History. Dark places. One can feel the soul of the building. “Turn right at the end to reach the terrace. There you may smoke.” I stopped. From a welcoming, mysterious darkness, suddenly, light. I look at the pavement. Ceramic slabs arranged in a dowel layout, each with about 2 by 15 cm. I get out. The irregularity of the pavement. The place moves me. Why?

“Architecture can only move us if it is capable of touching something buried deeply in our forgotten memories. (…)
In a world where everything is becoming similar and, eventually, insignificant and of no consequence, art has to maintain differences of meaning, and in particular, the criteria of experiential quality.”

(Pallasmaa, OASE 2002, pp.23-24)*

*Free translation - “Architecture manages to move us only if it manages to awaken anything deeply intertwined in our deepest memories. (…) In a World in which everything is becoming the same, and therefore losing its meaning and goal, art must be able to provide different meanings, and, especially, the quality criteria of the experience of space."

I have a sit. I am in frame: on the right side, the heavy mass of the stone. Trees that grow from the tile pavement. To the left, a superb landscape, different shades of green. Shades. The bell. The sound. I’m alone. The wind. The sun in my face. It was the atmosphere that moved me. Something spoke to me.

This dialogue between body and space had already begun inside the building. A bedroom with a volume that accommodated a bathroom and a closet. The care of having left a translucent glass plane in the bathroom wall: the possibility for natural light to come in. Filtered, subtle. The drawers with small spheres for handles. Opening the window: a mechanism that reminds me of the opening of the wood shutters in my house: lift, twist, pull - only then can we access the window. Having a seat at the stone window seat, by the open window. Looking into the U-shaped courtyard below, with orange trees. An axis created from the entrance of the building up to the Mountain’s landscape.

In the bedroom: the materiality. The wood. The touch, the activated feel. Not the standard timeless handle. Having to stop. The marble bathroom. A shade that, at first, seems grey. It actually has shades of green here and there. And cream. The contrast of the marble with the wood. The size of each of the marble pieces. The scale given to the room due to this. The weight of each material. The bedroom, that ceases to be a common rectangle, becomes cropped by the L shaped volume. The outside wall at least 80 cm thick. How many centuries old stone? Not to forget: the window that doesn’t reach the bottom here and allows for intimacy. The entrance of light in the area is so different from the one coming in from a 40 cm window. Once again, the bell chiming. Another 30 minutes must have passed. I got lost in Time. Not to rush. The bedroom must have 20m2. It accommodates so much. It accommodates surprise. It accommodates the activation of the different senses. Not only vision. Memory was activated by opening the window. The feel of the different materials.

It has gotten cold. I’m going inside. I enter the darkness once more. I smell the burnt wood. A lit fireplace. I let myself be led here. A room with a cubic volume, with a great fireplace. Spaces that intertwine. To reach one, you pass by a series of other rooms. Stone. A detailed ceiling. In steel. Once again, something moves me. This time, it’s the scent of burnt wood. The heat. The sound of each room. Each space has its atmosphere. Comfort in each room. I ask myself why I felt comfortable in each room. Why they moved me. They told me something. Spoke to me. Have we forgotten all of this? The relationship we have with spaces happens with the activation of memory. And memory is activated by the senses. Walking barefoot in a stone pavement, warm from the sun that shone on it during the day. The vinyl doesn’t offer the same feeling to the human body. The floor creaking. Differently in the winter and in the summer. My apartment, in a 19th Century building, has its own sounds. This building also has its own sounds. Sounds that take us back to the Past. The wood, the stone, the steel. Materials that give their temperature to the rooms. Their sound. Their feel. An area in cement has a sound, a temperature, a feel, different from one in wood. Each material also reflects light in a different way. They transmit sound in a different way. Each material has its own scent. Considering all this.

It all seems so obvious, what I wrote. However, I don’t feel the same when I enter my 19th Century building to when I enter a building for housing built nowadays. That I am sure of. We’ve lost something.

The interaction between a building for housing from the 19th century and its occupier is more obvious, giving it a sense of comfort and well-being, than the majority of the modern and contemporary buildings for housing. The former manages to wake and accommodate the memories of its occupier, interacting with them by wakening the senses; the experiences stored throughout the years, as well as personal dreams find an echo here, an expression. The latter created a rupture in tradition and, therefore, in culture, in the identity of each person. These are spaces that, by not interacting with the senses, do not harbour neither memory nor the dreams of people.

The concept of spatiality and of experiencing space was overcome by purpose. The thought of space is nothing, more often than not, but minimums of length, width and height that must be followed, pursuant to the existing law. Shape is always the same, purist, perfect: the rectangle; the shape that modern architects identify as the one that most easily accommodates the purpose of housing in a way for there to be the minimum possible lost space**. Surfaces are flat, walls without nooks or knobs; lighting is consistent - windows from floor to ceiling - glass architecture, in order to have the complete perception of the outside, instead of framing the landscape. An architecture without surprises that makes way for consistent experiences. The niches (Bachelard, 1994), the more intimate areas of the house, the places for thinking, for existentialism, were supressed.

“We build dwellings that, perhaps, satisfy most of our physical needs, but which do not house our mind.”

(Pallasmaa, Identity, intimacy and domicile, p.3)***

The majority of contemporary housing does not harbour the mind (or the body) - each occupier of the house has the same experience as the previous one. Corbusier’s typical man, with the same needs and therefore the same way of experiencing space. A predictable environment. The buildings for collective housing lost opacity, the framing of landscapes, the surprise, the nooks, the internal continuity of space in the housing unit, the possibility of choice in movement and paths. They’re less rich buildings regarding activation and accommodation of senses and personal memory, to the body and its connection to space, their interactivity.

Confortare – to achieve this in housing nowadays by going back to the Past, with spaces that put senses first instead of streamlining space. Spaces that, with their proportions/geometry and continuous relationships, refer to the space biography of their occupiers, becoming interpretable spaces. Spaces that frame landscapes. Spaces with sensorial surprises, either by the texture of materials, the broken shapes, or the continuous space. An architecture of the senses, of interaction, of identity. Spaces in which we want to touch the walls and feel their imperfections, their terraces.

The body keeps the count of the rooms it inhabits, of the objects that form them, of the way the light comes in at a set time of day, of the texture of the materials that surround it, of the room’s temperature, the scent that reaches the house of the orange tree in the courtyard outside, among others. This memories are the spirit of space, its experiential atmosphere; the body reads the room which is kept in the body through memories like the ones described above. This atmosphere is lived by the body even before the mind comprehends why we like a certain room or not. The first impression of a room is kept by the body, by the senses.

Therefore, architecture cannot be boiled down to purpose problem solving in a building; it is much more than that - in order to create an interaction between body and space, the latter must manage to evoke human values, existential values. It must confortare.

**A lost space is a space that does not have any pre-determined purpose.
***Free translation - “We build houses that perhaps satisfy our physical needs, but that do not harbour our mind."

"For our house is our corner of the world."

(Bachelard, The poetics of space, p.4)

S+A Offices around the world

Portugal, Lisbon | Headquarters
View more

Avenida Infante Santo, 69 a-c,
1350-177 Lisboa, Portugal

+351 213 939 340

Portugal, Funchal | Office
View more

Rua 31 de Janeiro, 12E, 6º Y,
9050-011 Funchal, Portugal

+351 291 215 090

Algeria, Oran | Office
View more

Rue Beni Hendel Nº03 (ex Vaucluse), Résidence Albert 1er,
Bureau Nº 34, 1er étage, Hai Oussama,
Oran 31000, Algérie

+213 412 48 139

Brazil, São Paulo | Office
São Paulo
View more

Rua Helena 275, 7º Andar CJ 73,
Vila Olímpia, São Paulo / SP
CEP 04552 050, Brasil

+55 11 3842 7279

Colombia, Bogotá | Office
View more

Carrera 13 nº94A-44,
Oficina 406 Bogotá, Colombia

+ 57 (1) 745 79 68/9

Kazakhstan, Astana | Office
View more

18 Dostyq street, Moscow Business Center
11th Floor, Office 36.2,
010000 Astana, Kazakhstan

+7 7172 72 95 96
+7 701 910 06 31

Singapore, Singapore | Office
View more

133 Cecil Street, Nº16-01 Keck Seng Tower,
Singapore 069535

+65 987 279 82

Switzerland, Lausanne | Office
View more

Avenue d'Ouchy 66,
1006 Lausanne, Suisse

Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City | Office
Ho Chi Minh City
View more

2/F, 8 Duong so 66, The Sun Thao Dien,
District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

+84 28 3620 2481

United States of America, Los Angeles | Office
Los Angeles
View more

475 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey,
CA 90292, United States of America

+1 310 439 3757

If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.